Thursday, April 16, 2015

Tuesday, April 14, 2015 - Pech-Merle Cave Paintings

One of the two things on Barb's to-do list is to see authentic cave paintings. We tried to make a reservation for Font-du-Gaume, but were told everything was full for the entire week. After a bit more research and another phone call, we learned that Font-du-Gaume only allows 80 visitors a day and they give out 50 reservations per day. To see the cave you must come early to get the 30 first come-first serve tickets for the day.  We'll try that later.

Janis in front of the wisteria outside our kitchen door.
But for today, we've made reservations at Pech-Merle and the boys decide that we can make stops for wine-tasting in the Cahors region and lunch at the medieval bridge in the city of Cahors. But first we need to have our daily check of the wisteria blooming.

We're in two cars - Barb & Dale in their rental car and Janis, Clark, Dave and I in ours. And we head out. It's a beautiful day with beautiful country scenery, but the roads are small - that is they are 2-lanes and only sometimes with center lines. Sometimes you have to pull over to the side to allow 2 cars to pass side by side. Oh, and did I mention the roads are curvy?

We're heading toward the Cahors wine region to a town named Parnac where there is supposed to be a wine cooperative. These coops make wine from the harvests of small growers and also promote regional wines. We figure it's a good way to get an overview of the region. 

But it's to be a morning of oh-ohs. First, we lose Dale and Barb and they are navigating with map and a not-so-good GPS. We wait for about 10 minutes when we realize they're not behind us and worry about whether we go back to look for them (what if they had an accident?) or carry on (they made a wrong turn and we'll never find them). We decide to carry on - the only firm requirement is that we meet up at 2 PM at Pech-Merle to pick up our tour tickets.

Next oh-oh. We drive on crazy scary roads down to the town of Parnac. We have to come down the side of a cliff on a narrow and steep road. Oh, and now we're driving along the Lot River which has more loops than the Dordogne. Go figure.
Our road down the side of the cliff. View out the windshield. Meeting  cars on this road is problematic.

See that grey stripe going up the hillside? That's the road we just drove down.
The Lot River - one of its many loops

And then we can't find the wine co-op. They are usually quite large and in the middle of town. All the way through town, and no co-op. We ask a man whose driveway we go into and he sends us back out of town. It's a large building he tells me.  Eventually we decide to go into a large looking complex where the sign says "vins d'olt". Surprise! it's the wine cooperative.

Inside we're greeted by a host who speaks excellent English. She should. She's a Brit and has been living in this part of France for the past 15 years. First order of business, bathrooms. Oops - these are the footprint bathrooms. Oh, well. When you've got to go, you've got to go.
You plant your feet on the raised footprints and try not to pee on your clothes.

We taste several wines and have a great visit with Jane, our host. 

We buy a case of wine and head toward the city of Cahors where we're hoping to meet up with Dale and Barb at the bridge.

The bridge should be easy to find. It's really famous as the best-preserved medieval fortified bridge in France. And that it is. We find our way into town and find a park with benches and a view of the bridge for eating our lunch. But no Barb and Dale. Now we're really worried because we have their sandwiches and they'll be starving to death. 

We spend a half hour eating lunch and checking out the bridge and then head off to find Pech-Merle. Now here's a place in the middle of nowhere. The nearest town is Cabrarets and from there we need to follow signs. How did Cro-Magnon people decide to live here???  It's high on a hill and not near anything modern. 
Grotte is a cave (or grotto); Pech means hilltop in Occitan (language of the South of France)
We finally find the cave parking lot and park. No Barb and Dale. But we are a bit early for our 2 pm meeting time.  As we're collecting our jackets out of the car, Barb and Dale pull up and park next to us. Hallelujah! At least we know they are safe.

It turns out they lost sight of us and while looking at a map on the side of the road, a French truck driver offered to help them find a vineyard. They followed the truck for about 20 km and realized they were not going anywhere near Parnac. By then they were too late to try to meet at the winetasting. So they made their way to the Cahors bridge. We missed them by a minute. They had parked on the opposite side of the river from us and they left about 12:05. We arrived just about that time.  They made their way to Pech-Merle having to navigate by map and sign reading which was a feat in itself given the remoteness of the cave.

The attraction of this cave is that it does tours where you see the actual paintings. At Lascaux, the actual caves have long been closed to the public and a replica cave is what is now visited. Our breath, fresh air, and our pollution damage the paintings beyond repair and there are fewer and fewer caves where tourists can see the actual cave paintings. At Pech-Merle, they still take 700 people per day to visit the caves. It's been a long drive over small roads, but we're excited to see the real-thing.

There are no photos allowed in the caves, but believe me the art is fantastic and worth the efforts of the day. There are no words to describe seeing the drawing of horses done 28,000 years ago with primitive tools and grease lanterns in the depths of an underground cave. 
Pech-Merle horses. Spotted horses did exist at this time and were not domesticated yet, so would have been hunted by Cro-Magnon people.
There must have been something so holy, or valuable, or important about making these drawings. It is known that these caves were not used for living and it is hypothesized they were related to something spiritual or religious.

Our tour lasts an hour and is in English. (Hooray for everyone!) There is much to be seen and appreciated in the variety of drawings and painting techniques. As the guide explains, Cro-Magnon people were just like us, same brains, same curiosities, same physical attributes, but only shorter than modern people. 

Once out, Barb and Dale want to hang around, check out the museum and the site before coming home. Our car heads out and an hour and a half later we are home. It's been a long day, so we decide to go out for pizza to the place in St. Cyprien where we've eaten before. Yep, the pizza is just as good as the first time. 

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